There are only three episodes left of Breaking Bad, and I have something to say. I hate Skyler White. Hate. I am well aware that many people share this opinion; in fact, the actress that portrays Skyler, Anna Gunn, is also aware of the issue. She was so frustrated that she penned a nice little essay titled, “I Have a Character Issue,” in which she demeans anyone with the audacity to dislike her character. Behold Gunn’s opening paragraph:
My character, to judge from the popularity of Web sites and Facebook pages devoted to hating her, has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, non-submissive, ill-treated women. As the hatred of Skyler blurred into loathing for me as a person, I saw glimpses of an anger that, at first, simply bewildered me.
The essay goes on to equate any dislike of Skyler White with an innate misogyny clearly at the core of all Breaking Bad fans. Gunn basically claims that because I hate Skyler, I must, in turn, hate all “strong, non-submissive, ill-treated women.” Pump the brakes, kid. As it turns out, my loathing for Mrs. White is firmly rooted in her despicable actions throughout the course of Breaking Bad’s five season run.
There are many things wrong with Gunn’s sentiment, but let’s start with the fact is that Skyler is not an innocent bystander. Even prior to her entwinement in Walt’s laundering scheme, she was not without fault. Remember that time Skyler helped Ted Beneke cook the books to keep him out of IRS trouble? She even crashes Ted’s meeting with the IRS, chalking up any misdeeds to her own unfamiliarity with bookkeeping. She takes the blame to keep him out of prison.
Skyler’s participation in Ted’s illegal meanderings suggests that if she doesn’t condone his behavior, she can at least turn a blind eye to it. However, when she learns the truth about Walt, she absolutely refuses to hear him out. She doesn’t care that he was (at least initially) looking out for his family; she doesn’t care that his life is at risk. After all, she is a “strong, non-submissive” woman. To Anna Gunn, this means that it is perfectly acceptable to cook the books, but cooking meth is another story.
Skyler’s morality further comes into question when she starts sleeping with Ted. Because her marriage is on the rocks, Skyler seems to feel justified in her infidelity. Cheating is one thing, but the most disturbing element of this whole affair is that Skyler brings her infant daughter with her on these trysts. She simply sets down the carrier and goes about ravishing Ted. Gunn claims that “at the end of the day, she [Skyler] hasn’t been judged by the same set of standards at Walt.” The above example is only one instance of how wrong Gunn is. Both of the Whites put their children at risk. Walt puts his children in danger, but it is indirectly; Skyler’s negligence, however, is of a different sort. She is preoccupied with her affair when she should be concerned about her children. She has just given birth, but sex is more important than Holly. This selfishness is later conveyed in Walter’s insatiable quest for more money. He has squirreled away more cash that his family could ever need, but it is still not enough. It is clear that Walter and Skyler both fall short in the parental standards department, but Walt’s fall from grace is a more gradual one.
Gunn also believes that audiences dislike Skyler because she is essentially the bad guy, claiming that since “Walter is the show’s protagonist, there is a natural tendency to empathize with and root for him, despite his moral failings . . . As the one character who consistently opposes Walter and calls him on his lies, Skyler is, in a sense, his antagonist.” This is true to an extent, especially early on in the series. For one thing, Walter is a likable guy who starts off with pure motives. Sure, he ultimately becomes a big-time drug lord, but at the beginning his sole concern was for his family. Conversely, Skyler is not likable. Her motives are unclear, but, as evidenced above, she isn’t looking out for anyone but herself. Furthermore, when Marie’s husband is desperately in need of expensive medical care, Skyler is suddenly able to turn a blind eye to the source of the money that Gunn claims so “disgusted” her. Thus, Skyler turns on and off her use of the moral highroad depending upon her needs at the time.
I am somewhat insulted by Anna Gunn’s unsupported assertions. I am an educated lady, and the notion that my dislike for Skyler must stem from an error in my personal belief system is asinine. Mind you, it is not just one person that hates this character, it is literally thousands and thousands of people. By Gunn’s logic, then, all of these people are harboring deep-seated misogynistic ideals. By my logic, the fact that so many people are unnerved by Skyler White suggests that the true problem must like within Skyler White. Instead, Gunn’s deluded perception leads to her assumption that something must really be wrong with anyone that could possibly dislike Skyler White:
But I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.
The truth is that Skyler embodies exactly what women do not want to be portrayed as. Skyler is hypocritical and indignant throughout much of the series, and she has no ambition other than to play the victim. She thrives on being the “poor wife” during Walt’s cancer treatments. When Walt goes into remission, Skyler reacts strangely because she may lose her victim status, thus she runs to Ted to milk what attention she can from the situation. She flourishes amidst this self-victimization, and it explains why we hate her so much more after she has learned about Walt’s drug ties. She has to make herself the center of attention, so she repeatedly throws tantrums until she is (ie, fake pool suicide attempt). Does Anna Gunn honestly believe this is what a strong female lead looks like? If so, perhaps this actress is more like her character than I had thought.
Anna Gunn’s essay can be seen here: